Although the asterisk symbol has a long history in writing, mathematics, and science, it is not a commonly used punctuation mark. Mostly seen with footnotes, sidenotes, and omissions, this small star-shaped mark provides a way to link information with existing text.
Take a look at this little mark to understand its usage and when it is acceptable to add to your own writing.
What is an Asterisk?
Located on the number “8” key on your keyboard, the asterisk (*) is a 5-point star-shaped symbol used to call attention to additional information related to existing text. It is most often used to highlight the use of a footnote but also to indicate an omission or disclaimer.
The asterisk is part of a group of symbols that are collectively used similarly. Multiple footnotes require varying symbols to indicate which footnote belongs with which text. These include the 6 (✲) and 8 (✳) point star, as well as the dagger (†), amongst others.
The History of the Asterisk
From the Greek word asteriskos, meaning little star, the first known use appeared in approximately 200 BC when Aristarchus of Samothrace began marking the margins of manuscripts with various symbols to indicate notations, queries, and personal comments.
Since he was a librarian, scholar, and critic, these marks helped illustrate his thoughts and knowledge on various topics he read about.
This use of the asterisk, alongside other various symbols, continued well into the medieval ages when scribes used them to notate annotations. When the printing revolution replaced hand-written manuscripts, the footnote replaced marginal notes. It was notated with an asterisk or related symbols to indicate the source or materials related to the printed text.
Today, footnotes are marked within a text with the associated materials located at the bottom of the page. A form of an asterisk (4, 5, 6, or 8 pointed stars are the most popular) or a dagger are the primary symbols used.
However, other acceptable symbols exist that you can use if you have already exhausted the asterisk and dagger in your footnote notations.
Types of Asterisks and Related Symbols
Here are a few asterisks and other symbols you can use when footnoting or otherwise. Note that this is only a sample of asterisk symbol styles and other characters used in footnotes. More exist.
|⁑||Two Asterisks Aligned Vertically|
|𐡗||Imperial Aramaic Section Sign|
|⊛||Circled Asterisk Operator|
|⁕||Flower Punctuation Mark|
|٭||Arabic 5-pointed Star|
|※||East Asian Reference Mark|
|☸||Wheel of Dharma|
|❋||Heavy Eight Teardrop-Spoked Propeller Asterisk|
|✲||Open Center Asterisk|
|✳||Eight Point Asterisk|
|✺||Sixteen Point Asterisk|
Asterisk Rule Use
Asterisks are used sparingly and, as explained, are used primarily to help connect existing text with added information in the form of footnotes. Footnotes are additional information that helps the reader understand an author’s opinion, highlights further reading on a subject, or names primary sources and data.
But, an asterisk can also point out additional detail such as disclaimers or missing material.
Take a look at these basic usage rules to take advantage of this tiny symbol.
Use an Asterisk With Footnotes
An asterisk always follows the punctuation mark of the sentence you are notating, including exclamation points and question marks. The exception to this rule is to follow the last word with the asterisk when a dash follows.
This asterisk is repeated with the material located on the bottom of the same page, called a footnote. This creates a visual connection between the location of the annotated material and the associated information.
If more than one footnote is located on a page, you may use a dagger or double asterisk. With multiple footnotes, you may prefer to take advantage of the symbols found in the chart above. You may also prefer to use numbers in place of symbols.
Use an Asterisk to Replace Missing Letters
A series of asterisks can point out missing letters in words you wish to censor. This is common practice in news writing when direct quotes are used or closed captioning and inappropriate language for a younger audience is present in television. They also are included in a Grawlix, a term used for a word indicated by all symbols used in comic books and comic strip speech bubbles.
Use an Asterisk to Point Out a Disclaimer
Asterisks can also be included to highlight a disclaimer or clarify existing written text. They are used in the same way a footnote is.
Use an Asterisk in Company Logos
Some company logos use an asterisk to replace a letter or punctuation mark. This is a trademarked situation and is a visual statement to help consumers remember a brand.
Where to Find an Asterisk on a Keyboard
The asterisk is located on the number 8 key and can be accessed by using the shift+8. It also can be accessed through special character lists and symbols charts in various software and smartphone applications.
What Does the Asterisk Mean in Texting?
If a person uses an asterisk in texting, it works similar to a footnote to indicate to the recipient that there is information they may be missing. If somebody texts you an asterisk, it means to scroll up or look up previously mentioned or shared information as a reply to a question or inquiry.
Also, if a word is written after the asterisk, it could indicate a correction of a spelling error in the previous message.
Asterisk Examples in a Sentence
Use these examples to see how the asterisk should be used in various scenarios.
As a Footnote
While in court, Thomas attempted to justify his client’s actions.*
The explanation will follow the asterisk at the bottom of the page:
*Here, Thomas is referring to the police report filed on June 10, 2010, stating…
As a Disclaimer
Join us for the Garden Walk on July 13!*
*The walk begins promptly at 10 am, and gates will close by 10:15 am.
“Who the h*** does she think she is?”
In a Company Logo
The asterisk is almost exclusively used as the most popular symbol for footnoted notations in the existing text. It provides a visual connection to additional information for the reader to further understand the material.
It also can be used to censor letters in profanity, help highlight disclaimers, or even be used symbolically in company logos.